What kind of emotional contagion are you spreading?

“The choices we make have a powerful impact on the people around us.” Amy Simpson




When I was about eight years old, I went to summer camp for the first time. I wanted to bring a friend, so I invited a girl from school, and she came with me. I thought it would be great to have a buddy around, and I just knew we would enjoy this camp together.

Boy, was I wrong.



It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just that my friend was desperately homesick and couldn’t get past it. Despite the best efforts of counselors and friends to comfort her, she cried herself to sleep at night, and she burst into tears at various points throughout the day. She sat off to the side during some activities, too miserable to participate. Because I was her friend and had invited her, I felt I needed to sit by her side and try to comfort her. She tried to enjoy herself and gamely stuck it out for the whole week, but she obviously didn’t want to be there. So, after a while, I didn’t want to be there anymore either.



A few other circumstances conspired to make it a difficult week: rain was pouring down when we arrived, and it rained for at least part of every day we were there, but my friend’s misery was the main factor that ruined the week for me. Later, my memories of the week were painted with sadness, and I stayed home from camp the following year. It was two years later before I had any desire to try the experience again. I’m glad I did. I loved it and kept going almost through high school. I have wonderful memories of camp, but that first year was almost enough to keep me from experiencing any of it.

I might sound a little bitter or melodramatic, but I got over it decades ago – and I’m not blaming my poor 8-year-old friend for being homesick or for expressing her sadness while we were there. She couldn’t help it. Neither could I help my shortcomings as a comforter. I wasn’t capable of taking away her sadness, and part of what spoiled the experience for me was my futile sense of responsibility to ease her distress somehow.



So here’s my point: our emotional experiences and expressions affect the people around us. This is as true for adults as it is for children. Our influence as grown-ups is generally far greater, so our emotional expressions have more power and impact more people. Plus, as adults, we have far more capability to choose how we express our emotions and change the thought patterns that produce our emotional responses. Although we often think of emotions as outside our control, we can make choices and manage our emotions and the behavior they produce. Also, the choices we make are never about us alone. They always affect other people, even when no one else happens to be in the same room.



“Emotions are contagious,” writes psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter. We pass our emotions along to others without even trying – and (she points out) we’re often unaware that we’re spreading or picking them up from the people around us. Like other forms of contagion, the process is often passive and unconscious – but it doesn’t have to be either. We can become more aware of what we’re spreading and take responsibility for our own agency.

So, what are you passing along? How much do you think about the ways your emotions influence others – as well as the ways they affect your own behavior?



If I went to camp with a friend at this point in my life, I wouldn’t blame a homesick adult for her feelings – but I would expect her to express her emotions with maturity and to consider how choosing a different perspective on the situation might shift her emotions. I encourage all of us to consider that we often have more choices available than we recognize, even when it comes to our emotions (which can wield a lot of power in our lives). Our choices do have a powerful impact on the people around us.

What if, more often, you were to choose to believe what’s true, think productive thoughts, and express your emotions in healthy and beneficial ways? You would undoubtedly see the effect on the people around you – and I bet they would pass it on.

First published January, 2018 at AmySimpson.com. Published with permission.

Happy Bubbles
Emotions Wheel • How Do You Really Feel?

Emotions Wheel

How do you really feel?

When we permit ourselves to ask, "How do I really feel?" we may notice the emotional nuances of feeling bad, afraid, angry, disgusted, sad, happy, and surprised.


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